Leafs just keep on giving

MIKE ZEISBERGER, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 10:46 AM ET

Bryan McCabe and his teammates have been handing out more presents than Jolly St. Nick of late, much to the chagrin of coach Paul Maurice.

"Yeah, I've given a couple of gifts out," McCabe admitted yesterday. "That's not a good thing."

The glaring McCabe giveaway that remains etched in the minds of Maple Leafs fans occurred in the third period of Toronto's 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

The veteran defenceman carelessly coughed up the puck behind the Toronto net, where it was quickly scooped up and deposited past goalie J-S Aubin on a nifty wrap-around by Pens rookie Jordan Staal.

But wagging an accusing finger at McCabe without including many of his teammates would be wrong.

Maybe the whopping five-year, $28.75-million US deal he signed during the off-season makes him an easy target for the critics, but there is plenty of blame to go around for the rash of sloppy turnovers that have plagued the Leafs during their recent funk.

Defenceman Brendan Bell and Hal Gill, for example, were nowhere to be found when the Ottawa Senators' Chris Kelly found himself wide open in front of Andrew Raycroft for the tying goal with just 2:06 remaining in regulation Saturday night.

To allow an opposing forward to be all alone on Raycroft's doorstep while protecting a 2-1 lead is inexcusable, and the Leafs know it.

"I can't put my finger on it," McCabe said. "We had outscored Ottawa, we had outhit them, and suddenly one lapse and the puck is in our net."

The Senators would post a 3-2 overtime victory on a Chris Phillips' goal, sucking even more confidence out of the Leafs heading into tonight's game against the Boston Bruins at the Air Canada Centre.

Defence was supposed to be a strength for the Leafs, with general manager John Ferguson spending 2006 re-signing McCabe and Tomas Kaberle to lucrative pacts, then inking free agents Pavel Kubina and Hal Gill.

Kubina, by the way, has yet to score for the Leafs after signing a four-year, $20-million deal in the summer.

At least McCabe has chipped in with 30 points, although his offensive production does not take away from some of the gaffs he and his mates have been making in their own end.

"Look,I'm my own worst critic," he said.

"Obviously defence comes first for all of us.

"We have to be better keeping the puck out of our own net. But it's not just the defence. Forwards have to do a better job of backchecking too. It's a total team thing.

"You can't dwell on these things. We play every second night, so you can't sulk or lose sleep over it. We just have to be better starting (tonight) against Boston."

While wanting his players to be more careful in their own end, Maurice isn't looking to impliment an eye-glazing yet effective New Jersey-type defensive system.

"I don't want to completely pull back on them," he said. "I don't think we can win that way."


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